For many people with food allergies, completely avoiding problem foods isn’t easy or even practical. Accidental exposures happen and, as we’ve seen recently in the press, can lead to dangerous and sometimes lethal consequences.
Sublingual immunotherapy (allergy drops) for foods, otherwise known as SLIT, can help both adults and children safely build tolerance in case an accidental exposure to allergens occurs. For some, it can help them enjoy many foods that once caused reactions.
While it is common knowledge that shots can be helpful for patients with environmental allergies, SLIT is not as widely recognized in the United States. Just as shots work by injecting tiny amounts of the tree, dust, or pollen that you are allergic to, SLIT works by giving that same substance as a drop placed under the tongue. The amount is enough to prime the immune system to stop reacting to the substance, yet is below the level that triggers an allergic reaction.
Allergy drops are safe and effective as treatment for both environmental and food allergies. They have been used in the US and Europe for over 50 years.
6 Common Questions About Allergy Drops:
How does sublingual immunotherapy for food allergies work?
All forms of immunotherapy work in the same way – by giving you small amounts of allergen so that your body learns to tolerate them without having reactions.
What food allergies can be treated with sublingual immunotherapy?
The most common food allergies that are treated with sublingual immunotherapy are the usual culprits – egg, milk, corn, yeast, wheat, soy, peanut and shellfish, but more than 100 different foods can be treated if needed. Your doctor formulates a special prescription of drops for you – you then take these 3 times daily to impart what is known as “tolerance”. This gives your body the ability to be exposed to the food without reacting.
How are food allergies diagnosed and what tests are performed?
Diagnosing food allergies starts by observing symptoms when troublesome foods are included in a person’s diet. Runny nose, mouth itching, or skin rashes can occur with food or environmental allergies. Other symptoms, though, such as upset stomach, fatigue and loose stools are more specific to foods. There are a number of ways to test for these allergies, and determine the level to which your body is reacting to the allergen. Special blood tests reveal the level to which your body is reacting – and the drops are formulated specifically for your unique level of reactivity to those specific allergens.
What about my seasonal allergies?
It’s always important to treat environmental allergies either first, or relatedly. Environmental allergies are much more common than food allergies, and the symptoms are often confused. Also, once environmental allergies are more under control, the body could become less reactive to foods, and thus you can treat fewer allergens, or perhaps not treat the foods at all. If you begin immunotherapy for environmental allergies and aren’t seeing results after three to six months, you may consider asking about food allergy testing and treatment.
How long does it take to see results?
Studies show that improvements in immune tolerance begin within days, while more permanent changes require more than a year of treatment. The length of treatment depends on the severity of your allergies and how compliant you are in taking the prescribed treatment. For mild to moderate allergies, a common treatment length is three to five years; more severe food allergy cases can take longer.
What is the end goal for the patient treated with sublingual immunotherapy for food allergy?
The goal of sublingual immunotherapy treatment for food allergy will vary by individual. If you have mild to moderate allergies, it may be possible to reintroduce allergic foods into your diet. If you have severe and life-threatening allergies, the goal is to reduce the likelihood of an allergic reaction to an accidental exposure.
Live in our neighborhood? Join Dr. Gereau for a free community talk, A Novel Approach to Treating Food Allergies. Come fInd out more about allergy drops and if they are right for you and your family. Sign up here.
Meet Dr. Gereau: Sezelle Gereau, MD, is an integrative ENT/Allergist with more than 20 years of experience. She uses an integrative and functional medicine approach to conditions such as sleep apnea, headaches, allergies and chronic sinusitis. Make an appointment with Dr. Gereau.